1 of 26 Ali Goldstein/NBC
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
There's nothing like going out on top. Fey remained the heart of 30 Rock in its last season and proved that we really can have it all! Or Liz Lemon can at least. Showing just how far Liz has come the past seven years, Fey crafted a final season that was both riotous and heartfelt, perfectly calibrating Liz's gradual evolution into a modern role model all the while holding down the fort at TGS. Farewell, Liz & Co. These were the best days of our flerm.
2 of 26 Adam Taylor/Fox
Jake Johnson, New Girl
Who ever thought underachieving Nick Miller — with his dead-end job, lack of social skills and penchant for getting angry over the littlest things — could be so darn endearing? The will-they-won't-they relationship between Nick and Jess has been highlighted by Johnson's sweet, funny and self-deprecating performance, which often steals the show from his titular counterpart. Lending a sensitive credibility to the role, Johnson elevated Nick beyond a cantankerous caricature and into a well-rounded — albeit unhinged — protagonist we can't help but love.
3 of 26 Katherine Bomboy Thornton/ABC
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
Although Panettiere's sassy and sexy Juliette Barnes was initially presented as a superficial threat to Rayna James' country empire, Juliette quickly became the most layered (and fun) character on the show. Panettiere surprised us with her vocal chops, whether doing a simple acoustic solo or performing in front of thousands, but she really wowed us with the emotional vulnerability she brought to what could have been a trite story line involving her mother's addiction. Sure, Juliette can still be a brat, but thanks to Panettiere's raw, honest performance, we often find ourselves taking her side of the argument.
4 of 26 Randy Tepper/Showtime
Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter
The show is called Dexter, but it was Deb who stole the spotlight this year. As Deb discovered her brother was a serial killer, Carpenter ran the gauntlet of emotions — from denial to fear and finally all the way to begrudging acceptance. Carpenter, who thankfully never lost her ability to make her laugh with her sailor mouth, even made us less creeped out by Deb being in love with her adopted brother. Now that's an achievement!
5 of 26 Justin Lubin/NBC
Monica Potter, Parenthood
As part of a large ensemble, it's hard to set yourself apart, but Potter was able to do just that with her character's cancer battle this season. Kristina's ups and downs had us constantly grabbing for the Kleenex, but despite the heaviness of the subject, Potter also made us laugh as she smoked pot to help her nausea or donned a sexy red wig for a romantic date with her husband. And cancer or not, she's just a damn good mother: Who else would urge argue with the PTA about putting candy back in vending machines for their son?
6 of 26 David Giesbrecht/Fox
Valorie Curry, The Following
Among all of Joe Carroll's creepily sadistic followers, Curry's Emma stands out as the craziest — and most complex — of the bunch. In her breakout role, Curry took Emma from a sweet nanny to a matricidal maniac, and kept viewers on the edge of their seats with her unpredictable rage and ability to manipulate her partners in crime. We're rooting for Joe and Emma's twisted love story, only so that we can see more of Curry in Season 2.
7 of 26 Adam Rose/FOX
Chord Overstreet, Glee
He sings. He dances. He makes us laugh. And, most importantly, he is one heck of a stripper. This season, the Glee writers finally learned how to embrace Overstreet's many strengths: While so many other McKinley High kids were busy dealing with emotional issues, Overstreet's knack for impressions, not to mention his character's relationship with the equally hilarious Brittany, solidified him as the comedic star of Season 4. Extra kudos to producers for finding so many excuses to reference Sam's "White Chocolate" past. No, really. Thank you.
8 of 26 Beth Dubber/Fox
Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project
Kaling's greatest achievement with her new Fox comedy is creating an outspoken (and sometimes delusional) character we can relate to. The more flawed Mindy is, the more we love her, probably because Kaling makes even Mindy's most offensive comments charming — or at the very least, realistic amd hilarious. Trust us, it takes true talent to pull off confessing your life plan is to "marry rich" without coming off as a jerk.
9 of 26 Kent Smith/Showtime
Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, Homeland
The screen crackles every time these are together, so it's no surprise that both were recognized with Emmy wins this year. In the Showtime thriller's second season, Danes and Lewis dove deeper into the complex feelings between their characters while retaining just enough paranoia and doubt about each other's intentions to keep viewers on edge. Whether Carrie was breaking Brody in the interrogation room or Brody was doing unthinkable things to keep Carrie safe, these two seem to stay together even when it's not in their best interest. "Two minutes with you and I feel good. How do you pull that off?" Brody asks Carrie at one point in the second season. Funny, we have the exact same feeling.
10 of 26 Brownie Harris/NBC
Elizabeth Mitchell, Revolution
Revolution's Rachel Matheson feels like the best possible amalgamation of Mitchell's past genre heroines. The softer side of Lost's Juliet shines through in Mitchell's scenes with Rachel's daughter Charlie and possible former flame Miles, while the badass side of V's Erica Evans has come out as Rachel vows to restore power and avenge her son's death. Honestly, we'd watch Mitchell read the phone book.
11 of 26 David Giesbrecht/CBS
Matt Czuchry, The Good Wife
While Czuchry was woefully underused when his character first returned to the firm, Cary's delightful bromance with the firm's court-appointed trustee, Clark Hayden (Nathan Lane) let Czuchry utilize the comedy chops he first displayed in early Season 1. But Czuchry really stood out after his character's non-promotion, as he made Cary as ruthless and self-driven as the rest of the firm without losing his likeability. No wonder Kalinda finally warmed up to Cary's out-of-office invitation!
12 of 26 Michael Becker/FOX
Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban, American Idol
Two out of three ain't bad. Among the new judges on the 12th season of American Idol, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban have far outshined their fellow newbie, Mariah Carey. Love her or hate her, Minaj has offered some valuable, if sometimes bizarre, feedback to the contestants, and has injected some welcome energy and unpredictability into the show. And Urban — the most demonstrative judge on the panel — has perfected the art of giving pointed, pertinent feedback without being a jerk in the process.
13 of 26 Justin Lubin/NBC
Julie White, Go On
We weren't sure how many laughs Go On's grief-therapy premise would provide, but White — and her angry lesbian widow — quickly put our concerns to rest. Armed with an acerbic wit that would put Simon Cowell to shame, Anne sprouts putdowns like no other, none of which would land nearly as well without White's faultless comic timing. Let's hope Anne never leaves the "angry" stage.
14 of 26 Craig Blankenhorn/FX
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, The Americans
The success of FX's critically loved Cold War drama hinges almost entirely on the two stellar performances at its center. Russell's steely intensity makes us forget all about Felicity, but she brings just enough emotion to make us sympathize with the enemy. Rhys, meanwhile, is both captivating and unpredictable as he bounces back and forth between being the lovelorn family man and the brutal spy who must follow his orders.
15 of 26 Michael Parmelee/NBC
Danny Pino, Law & Order: SVU
When the long-running drama returned last year with two new faces, Pino had the toughest job of all: Fill the shoes of Christopher Meloni. Thankfully, Det. Amaro's juicy backstory — his occasional drinking problem, his estranged wife and, more recently, the 9-year-old son he never knew he had — has given Pino plenty of chances to bear his character's soul. Pino always leads with his character's scarred, but seemingly good, heart — especially when looking out for Benson, with whom he's slowly built a satisfying partnership. Stabler who?
16 of 26 Richard Foreman/ABC
Bellamy Young, Scandal
As Fitz's wife — and an obstacle in Olivia and Fitz's forbidden love affair — Mellie is easy to love to hate. But underneath the pampered upbringing, snobby grin and Jackie O style is a complex, cold-blooded, unapologetically ambitious and politically savvy Lady Macbeth first lady whom Young plays to the hilt. Just try watching her go toe-to-toe with Tony Goldwyn in a classic Shonda Rhimes speechifying scene and not be riveted. We can't even remember why we ever hated her in the first place.
17 of 26 Richard Cartwright/ABC
Parker Young, Suburgatory
His ridiculously good-looking and athletic alter-ego Ryan Shay may be known as "The Body," but during Suburgatory' second season, Young proved to be so much more than a pretty face. He brings his knack for physical comedy to the show's lighter moments, but deftly handles heavier emotion, including the scenes when Ryan found out he was adopted. Young managed all that while tackling the biggest hurdle of all: winning over the heart of the show's independent, cynical and slightly snobby Tessa to create the perfect couple of opposites.
18 of 26 Tyler Golden/NBC
Ellie Kemper, The Office
Erin's love triangle with Andy and Pete on The Office's final season reminded viewers what they loved about the show in the first place: its ability to seamlessly fuse humor and heart. Besides her ability to play a ditz without crossing the line into annoying, Kemper and Jake Lacy (as Pete) gave us something to cheer for, even as it served as a bittersweet indicator of how much we're going to miss the folks at Dunder Mifflin.
19 of 26 Annette Brown/The CW
Candice Accola, The Vampire Diaries
If there was an award for crying scenes, Accola would be the winner. While we love when she's spitting out one-liners or doling out words of wisdom, it's her emotionally charged moments — saying goodbye to Tyler (again), losing her father — that get us the most . Even though Accola's character isn't human, she still knows how to break our hearts.
20 of 26 Tyler Golden/NBC
Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation
Pawnee is full of characters we've come to know as well as our own family, but Ann Perkins has always just been… a nurse. But this season, as Ann became determined to have a baby, Jones finally got to flourish. Now that Ann has stopped mimicking her various boyfriends, Jones is able to let Ann's own inner freak-flag fly, proving she's just as quick (and quirky) as her platonic life-partner, Leslie Knope.
21 of 26 Gene Page/AMC
Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead
Daryl Dixon was elevated to Rick's No. 2 in Season 3, and Reedus also stepped up his game as Daryl was forced to choose between reuniting with his brother or staying loyal to the group of survivors with whom he'd finally bonded. In doing so, Reedus revealed an innate goodness and a vulnerability that was never more on display than when his character was forced to kill his brother, who had become a zombie. While the show is often credited for making us jump, Reedus' pain and authenticity ensured that this heartbreaking scene will be remembered for what it made us feel.
22 of 26 Giovanni Ruffino/CBS
Lucy Liu, Elementary
As a reimagined female version of the classic Sherlock Holmes sidekick character, Liu brought a fresh fierceness to her role as Dr. Joan Watson, the sober companion and later apprentice of Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock. She silenced detractors with her wise, witty portrayal and, with no indication (thankfully) that she and Sherlock will become bedmates any time soon, we're looking forward to seeing Liu's crime-fighting skills continue in Season 2.
23 of 26 Carin Baer/ABC Family
Bailey Buntain, Bunheads
It's hard to keep up with Broadway legend Sutton Foster. Add in Amy Sherman-Palladino's whip-fast dialogue and it's near impossible. Yet somehow newbie Buntain has managed to not only hold her own, but shine in the ABC Family ballet drama. Unlike her fellow bunheads, Buntain doesn't play to any teen stereotype. Instead, she's turned her character into one of the most understated, but articulate expressions of teenage insecurity and resilience. Plus, have you seen Buntain dance? This girl is talented!
24 of 26 Danny Feld/ABC
Damon Wayans Jr. and Eliza Coupe, Happy Endings
Is there any couple on TV with better chemistry than Brad and Jane? Not only are they the rare sitcom couple who isn't constantly at odds, but they actually seem like they are crazy in love. And that's all a testament to Wayans and Coupe's wacky, sweet and easygoing rapport. No matter what insane situation the show puts them in — be it Brad working at a children's gym as a CFO (chief fun officer, duh) or Jane lamenting her Christmas baby status — the pair is the functioning dysfunctional couple we all wish to be.
25 of 26 Jessica Miglio/HBO
Adam Driver, Girls
Who knew that a show called Girls would make us fall in love with the guys? Although Driver's character was initially off-putting ("You should never be anyone's f---ing slave, except mine," he said in Season 1) he broke our heart in Season 2, both when Hannah kicked him out of her life and when he tanked a seemingly healthier relationship because he still pined for her. Driver displays both the intensity of Adam's anger issues as well as a simple sweetness that somehow turned him into a Prince Charming who ran through the streets and kicked in a door to save his damsel in distress.
26 of 26 Patrick Harbron/The CW
Katie Findlay, The Carrie Diaries
Much like her future Sex and the City self, the young Carrie Bradshaw is nothing without her BFFs. Here, it's Findlay's wisecracking Maggie who has stolen our heart — despite trying to steal her friend's ex. No, Maggie's not perfect — she cheated on her boyfriend and was aggressively homophobic — but Findlay's charm still managed to make Maggie bearable and even loveable.